A sermon preached by the Revd Aaron Kennedy
Acts 2:1-21+; Psalm 104:26-end; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Some of you may know
that I am not a cradle Anglican.
I was raised presbyterian
and did my best for mum and dad
to seem interested in repetitive 40 minute sermons
week in week out.
(By the way, I’m sure not all Presbyterians are so mind numbingly boring,
but that was my experience.)
In my teens however,
I discovered a form of church that held my attention much more effectively.
It was Pentecostal worship,
and the principal attraction for me
was that these Christians
seemed to really believe God was alive and well,
and might actually – in various surprising ways,
make his presence known to them.
Well, you can imagine my excitement as a young committed Christian,
who’d had it in the neck on many an occasion
from my school friends for actually believing in God,
and who’d sat through so many hours of seemingly irrelevant churches services,
to discover all kinds of special gifts
that the Holy Spirit would give people,
allowing them to speak in spiritual languages,
have insights and wisdom they didn’t previously possess,
and find healing and inner peace.
It was all very exciting.
And God became real to me again.
(Bear in mind of course,
that I had never seen a church like this,
with all its symbolism and beauty,
I had never heard of “the liturgy”, with its movement and dynamism,
never known the deep and strong ties to the early church
we as Anglicans take for granted.)
However I was involved with this charismatic Church for a few years,
and while I can now acknowledge its validity and importance in my spiritual journey,
I got burned.
I experienced the misuse of these spiritual gifts,
and started to see much of it in a cynical light.
Some within that church abused their position,
manipulated others who were open to suggestion,
and it came to feel more like a narrow sect,
a cult-like group, gathered around a charismatic and authoritarian leader.
At its worst, it seemed like wish fulfilment,
and a distraction from the everyday reality of life.
Another irrelevant, holy huddle.
Today we celebrate Pentecost,
the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus.
It is nine days since we celebrated the ascension,
and the image that has stuck in my mind from that day,
almost the point at which we left ascension story,
and from which we pick up today with the Pentecost story
is that of the disciples staring up into the clouds
into which Jesus has just ascended,
when two angels appear and ask them,
“Men of Galilee,
why do you stand looking up toward heaven?
This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven,
will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
As I began prepare this sermon,
I realised how relevant this question is to my Pentecostal church experience.
Yes, there had been something of a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit,
yes, we had in some ways been brought closer to God,
had our relationship with God enlivened;
yes, there was much that was good about it,
but hadn’t we also allowed ourselves to be distracted
from deeper, timeless, truths about the Holy Spirit,
and become caught up in our experiences,
in the good feelings often elicited
by rousing music and outlandish preaching?
Hadn’t we boxed Almighty God in,
and opted to settle for something less than the Lion of Judah?
I think so.
Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?
In John’s Gospel,
in the chapter before today’s gospel reading,
Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit whom he will send,
after he goes to the Father.
A disciple wants to know more about the Spirit,
how through the Spirit God will reveal himself to them,
and Jesus says
“Those who love me will keep my word,
and my Father will love them,
and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
The home of God is among mortals,
we are told in the book of Revelation.
Let’s think about that for a moment.
Its meant to be a shocking statement.
God, holy, high, mighty,
making his home among mere mortals,
unholy, low, weak.
This is something we are all prone to forget, to avoid.
We are too often so aware of our own brokenness,
our own weakness and fecklessness,
of our own pettiness and preciousness,
that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit
wherein God becomes one with us,
and makes us one with the Father,
– completing the work of the Incarnation,
that we sideline him.
We edit him out of our lives,
out of the messy, mundane reality.
We instead stand looking up toward heaven,
keeping God in tidy little box of our choosing,
and refusing – consciously or unconsciously,
to see God abiding in, and working through
the most apparently unholy realities.
Washing the dishes,
changing the nappies,
putting up a marquee,
serving refreshments after church.
We read in the book of Genesis about the first day of creation
before anything had been formed,
that a creative wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
The connection in Acts is obvious,
when with the disciples all gathered together in one place,
a sound like the rush of a violent wind willed the place where they were sitting.
Another translation of the sweeping or rushing wind,
is that the Spirit of God brooded
– over the face of the waters, over the gathered disciples.
The Spirit broods over us,
as a mother hen broods over her chicks,
as a young couple become broody
as the desire to raise children rises within them.
In Pentecost we are reminded that the Spirit broods over us,
breathing life into our fearful and uncertain souls,
continually moulding us – as the first disciples, into a new body,
the body of Christ.
Because God is not only up there,
in the clouds enthroned in glory beside the father.
God is here, now,
standing in our midst,
celebrating our joys with us,
grieving our losses with us.
God is incarnated through us, as us, his people,
because of the brooding breath of the Holy Spirit,
sent to us at Pentecost.
We are the presence of Christ to each other.
We can – and do – love one another as Christ loves us,
but more, we can be Christ to one another.
As I settle into my time here at St Mary’s I have discovered this too,
that you love me,
that you will look out for me,
forgive me my wrongs,
and support and strengthen me to be the person God calls me to be.
So far from being a one-way street,
of ministry by the clergy to you the people,
we are all together essential parts of the body of Christ,
none of whom are dispensable.
All of whom have a particular calling, particular gifts,
and particular ministries within the body,
the body breathed into life by the Spirit.
And may we always be willing
to be lead by the dynamism and movement of the Holy Spirit.
At Pentecost the Spirit filled the followers of Jesus,
giving birth to the church,
the immediate effect of which,
was not the forming of privileged closed club of believers
but the beginning of the evangelisation of the whole world.
Pentecost is the epicentre of a divine earthquake,
the effects of which would go on to spread throughout the whole world.
Because the Spirit blows where will;
it knows no bounds,
it breaks down barriers
and it builds up the body of Christ
bringing together all sorts of people.
In Pentecost we are reminded
that the home of God is among mortals.
That we can all at times box God into a narrow, safe space,
we can all be caught gazing up into the clouds,
and forget that the Holy Spirit is forming us into Christ’s body on earth,
that he sanctifies our whole lives,
imbuing the mundane, the messy, the everyday,
with a divine luminescence.
We are reminded too,
that God’s purpose through the Spirit is centripetal,
always pushing further and further out,
bringing all things back into right relationship with God.
“Men and women of Battersea,
why do you stand looking up toward heaven?
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